It's always a worry when you get rid of a PC or hard drive that all sorts of personal data could be sitting on it waiting to be stolen. This is even more important when it comes to business computers.
There have always been a huge variety of hard disk wiping packages available from third-parties, but did you know that Windows 7 has it's own free in-built tool for securely erasing, not just whole hard disks, but specific folders as well?
The cipher.exe tool has been around for years now and is used for managing the EFS (Encrypted File System) feature that preceeded Bitlocker and was first introduced with Windows 2000. It's run from the Command Prompt (as an Administrator).
With Windows 7 though Microsoft have added a new switch to the tool, and it's one you should definitely use with care!
The command is simply cipher /w:x:\folder where you would substitute x:\folder for the location you want wiped, for instance your D:\ drive or your C:\Users\Mike Halsey\Music folder.
This will write a series of 0s, 1s and then random characters to every sector of the drive or folder to securely erase the data that's stored there. Believe me, if you do this casually you're not going to get your data back afterwards.
Microsoft say that this feature is here for clearing empty folders and drives that need to be erased, and it's an excellent way to save money on expensive third-party software.
So the next time you're upgrading your hard disk, don't waste your money, just cipher the thing instead.
To display a list of all parameters run cipher /? on the command line. This displays every parameter and a short description that explains what it is used for.
Update: There are free third party tools available that let you perform the same operations. Eraser is one of the programs that you can use for that purpose. You can have the program erase data in folders, hard drives or free disk space of a drive easily.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.